How wars, plagues, and urban disease propelled Europe’s rise to riches
Introduction (Via Vox.eu)
In modern economic thinking, peace and prosperity go hand in hand. However, there are good reasons why in pre-modern societies, the opposite relationship held true – war, disease, and urban death spelled high incomes. This column explains why Europe’s rise to riches in the early modern period owed much to exceptionally bellicose international politics, urban overcrowding, and frequent epidemics.
Additional Excerpt (Via Vox.eu)
In a pre-modern economy, incomes typically stagnate in the long run. Malthusian regimes are characterised by strongly declining marginal returns to labour. One-off improvements in technology can temporarily raise output per head. The additional income is spent on more (surviving) children, and population grows. As a result, output per head declines, and eventually labour productivity returns to its previous level. That is why, in HG Wells’ phrase, earlier generations “spent the great gifts of science as rapidly as it got them in a mere insensate multiplication of the common life” (Wells, 1905).